Saturday, May 2, 2009

Another instance of infanticide in Early Modern England

Yet another pamphlet from the period entitled "A True and Perfect Relation of a most Horrid and Bloody Murther" demonstrates how murderous mothers were demonized and how their crimes were characterized as monstrous. This pamphlet which was printed in 1686 relates the story of Mary Philmore who drowned her infant son. The infant was nine weeks old and the mother had been ill recently and had also been in an altercation with her husband prior to her murderous actions. She was found later wandering the streets with no idea of where she was going or where she had been. She confessed her crime and was imprisoned until her trial date. The pamphlet doesn't relate her manner of execution or her confession but it does characterize the woman as a "desperate creature" and her actions are described as "inhuman". While the pamphlet doesn't relate all of the facts, it does a better job than most. The reader is able to tell from reading this pamphlet that all was not right with Mary Philmore, and her actions against her nine week old infant were the result of something that had gone terribly wrong. Unfortunately during a time when terms like postpartum depression were not yet known and did not exist, the only explanation for her actions would have been associated with the devil and evil. The author of this pamphlet even mentions that "the Devil still being busie with her to make it [the child] away". It would have been reasonable to assume during this period that the devil was the cause for such a horrifying action.

cited from:
"A True and Perfect Relation of a most Horrid and Bloody Murther"
London: 1686
EEBO (Early English Books Online)

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